Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Santo Thomãs - the end of the Road in the Zapata, Cuba

If you take the lonely road west through forest and scrubland in the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata, eventually you reach the hamlet of Santo Thomãs. A rough road may continue further, but it's surprising you can drive this far. But as you can see from the sign, there is bus service.
Zapata sparrow, photograph © Carl Mease 2017
We were with a birding group and took boats along a canal to find the Zapata Sparrow. We saw the little guy, one of the endemic birds of Cuba. The canals lead to the Gulf of Batabano and were dug by the timber industry in the early 1900s. This one has been maintained to let villages reach the sea and go fishing.
Santo Thomãs is quiet now. A local gent said once there were 500 residents, but only a few dozen live here now.
The town had a small community center, a place where the gents (and ladies?) could sit with a beer and play chess or other games. We saw similar community centers in many rural towns.
This modest house is the community clinic. The visiting nurse lives on the second floor, while the clinic is on the ground floor.
The examining rooms were basic but clean. However, there was no air conditioning, and I am not sure how they keep out mosquitoes in the wet season. The nurse comes for 5 or 6 days and is replaced on a regular rotation. The gent above was a college graduate.
A sheet of paper had listed several medical procedures and the value of this service in Pesos. Even though medical care is free, I suppose the card's purpose was a form of advertising for the government. The prices were in the Pesos used by local Cuban citizens. As of early 2017, 24 local Pesos = 1 CUC Peso or U.S. $1. So, a consultation with a cardiologist is worth 79.64 Pesos or $3.31. Attention for a grave patient is 770.50 Pesos or $32. The nurse told us that for serious illnesses, an ambulance would take the patient to the city or a helicopter might even be used. I am impressed that such a small town has a full-time clinic. We need more walk-in clinics in the USA, where people can get inexpensive or free preventative care before their illnesses blossom into major medical emergencies, requiring ultra-expensive hospital emergency room treatment or long-term hospitalization.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kuhn Memorial Charity Hospital before the Fence

The City of Vicksburg finally gained legal title to the Kuhn Memorial Charity Hospital and the land in late 2016. The legal battles and title searches took several years, and I can't begin to understand the details. On November 29, 2016, I was taking some photographs on Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., and a fence company was erecting a chain link fence to secure the property. Therefore, the following photographs may be my last of the condemned site
Severe and formal facade of Kuhn Hospital. The grass field had just been cut.
Entry main door with vandalized furniture.
West side of the hospital complex with the connector passage between the two main buildings.
Former ambulance entrance on the west side.
The interior is such a mess, I did not want to venture inside. I photographed some of the first floor rooms in early 2014 and the upper floors in 2014.

The October 20, 2016 Vicksburg Post summarized the history of the building:
A former city hospital, the city sold Kuhn to the State of Mississippi in 1956 for $5, and the state operated the facility as a charity hospital, initially known as the Vicksburg Charity Hospital, until 1989. 
The city regained the property in 1990 under an agreement with the state to turn it over to a private corporation.
In 1993, the building was considered as a possible veterans home, and in 1994, it was considered for a possible 38-bed adolescent psychiatric ward. 
In 1999, the building was sold to the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., which planned to open a 100-bed clinic and assisted living center. The plans fell through, and in 2000 the company donated the building to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation. 
The property has been sold six times for taxes, and city officials have been trying for at least the past 10 years to get the property owner to clean the property and demolish or renovate the buildings on the site. 
The board on July 6 put the 12.8-acre property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building. The city’s efforts to do something with the property accelerated in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property June 28. Police said Wilson was killed in the back building and her body left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the site found it. When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the two buildings on the site in September, it cleared the way to begin the process for their demolition.
Photographs taken with a Fuji GW690II 6×9 camera on Tri-X 400 film and scanned with a Minolta ScanMulti medium format scanner. Click any photograph to enlarge it to 2400 pixels wide.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Revsit to the Secret Playground, Vicksburg

In February, I walked back through the brush to the Secret Playground off Wisconsin Avenue. The path was reasonably clear, but the playground area has a lot more brush than before. It looks like the City has not cleared or mowed since my original 2013 visit.
The merry-go-round still turns.
The slide into the poison ivy thickets.
These photographs are scans from Kodak Panatomic-X black and white film shot with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar lens. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta ScanMulti medium format scanner.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bikinis at the Bay of Pigs

Checking out the scene, Playa Larga, Cuba
The US-sponsored invasion Bay of Pigs plays a large role in the history and mythology of the Cuban Revolution.
After reading about how the invading force flubbed up just about everything and how the Cuban soldiers under the direction of Fidel Castro rounded up and arrested the demoralized invading force, I expected to see rusting military equipment and debris on the beaches at Playa Larga. Oops, now there are Europeans lounging around in small swim suits enjoying rum mojitos. Yes, I suppose even the Revolution must slowly adapt to the new economic reality.

The little town of Playa Larga, at the northwest tip of the Bahía de Cochinos or Batalla de Girón, was the Red Beach landing site for the CIA-trained paramilitary group Brigade 2506 on April 17, 1961. The beach proved to be floodlit, the boats grounded on coral reefs, and within three days, the Brigade 2506 was defeated by Cuban Army and militia forces. It was a tremendous embarrassment for President Kennedy, although the operation was hatched by the CIA and approved by President Eisenhower long before Kennedy began his term.
Then Playa slumbered, but is slowly transforming itself into a tourist destination. I am not sure if there are any hotels, but there are numerous casas particulares, which means private houses that have been certified to take in tourists. The one we stayed in was really more like a small inn rather than a private house, but someone on the staff did sleep in a tiny interior room. The staff was very courteous, the water was hot, towels clean, and our room faced the sea.
Despite the new tourists, much of Playa Larga looks like a place left in a previous time. The streets are sort-of paved. Local folks walk or take tricycle taxis. The rooster sings every morning (and much of the day and night, as well).
We walked around and came across a shop where the gents were restoring an old car. The next day it was gone, so I assume it ran on its own power. Cuban mechanics are pretty innovative considering the embargo for the last 50 years.
We were surprised that there was not much of a fishing fleet, just small open boats with outboards.
Propaganda in visitor's center at entrance to Playa Larga.
Victory billboard in Bermeyas, near the Bay of Pigs military museum.
Plana Larga is fun enough, and we had wonderful weather without mosquitos. We were on a birding group, and the Zapata Peninsula is fabulous for bird-watching. But I'm not sure if I would go to Playa for a beach vacation.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Our Man in Havana 10: Nuevo Vedado

1950s flying saucer petrol station
The modern suburb west of Habana Centro is known as Nuevo Vedado. We stayed in a Casas Particulares, meaning a house in which the owner rents rooms to tourists. The one we were in was really nice, of modern 1950s modernist architecture with huge glass walls, It resembled a merging of a Mies van der Rohe glass house and one of Joseph Eichler's "California Modern" homes. In contrast to our challenging Park View Hotel downtown, we had immaculate modern US bathroom fixtures, hot water, clean towels, and excellent food. There were framed photographs of musicians and artists, who gather at the house.
There was even a hair service! Disadvantage: the house was a long way from downtown and we needed to use taxis.
As in downtown, there was a dearth of stores, at least on USA or European standards. I saw a pharmacy and a few restaurants, including the pollo snack bar on 26 Calle in the photograph above. I don't know if this was an example of the small-scale private industry that is now allowed now in Cuba, but it was busy.
Some of the apartment blocks reminded me of ones in Rangoon: lots of mildew creeping over the facade. I assume these were pre-revolution, meaning pre-1959. Despite some decay, this is a nice area. One taxi driver pointed out a house to us and said it is where Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar (the U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 - 1959) lived.
The playground on 41 Calle was pretty rough.

Dear Readers, we are done with our short tour of Havana and will proceed to other parts of Cuba. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Our Man in Havana 9: the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón

The Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón was founded in 1876 in the western suburbs of Havana, now known as the Vedado neighbourhood. Arellano de Loira y Cardoso, a Galician architect, built the cemetery and was also the first occupant when he died before his ambitious project was completed. Acording to Wikipedia, "Colon Cemetery is one of the great historical cemeteries of the world, and is generally held to be the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires."
The cemetery is full of ornate statuary and superb marble-work, similar to what I have seen in New Orleans, Louisiana.
There are also examples of 20th century Communist realism-style sculpture; workers toiling for the state type of symbolism. In this example, the man on the very left is carrying sugar cane, while the next man has bananas.
The man in this tomb is the Afro-Cuban singer and musician Ibrahim Ferrer Planas, who died on August 6th, 2005, at age 78. An Economist essay described his life and the revival of Cuban music around the world. Ferrer was one of the musicians in the “Buena Vista Social Club,” which sold 4 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy. In 2004, when Ferrer won the Grammy, the United States government denied permission for him to enter the U.S. to receive his award.

Photographs taken with a Leica M2 rangefinder camera on Kodak tri-X film. I developed the film in Kodak HC-110 developer and scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i scanner.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Man in Havana 8: The Central Railway Station

The Central Station in 1939, from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/realestate/cuba-streetscapes-the-new-york-accented-architecture-of-havana.html)
When I visit new cities, I like to check out the railroad station and train infrastructure. The main railway terminal in Havana is the Havana Central Station (Estación Central de Ferrocarriles) in the southern part of Habana Viejo. This handsome building was built in 1912 by the Frederick Snare Company of New York. Recall that in that era, big American companies dominated the Cuban economy and were improving the infrastructure to allow efficient movement of sugar cane and sugar products. After the 1958 revolution, the rail system was nationalized, and little or no funding was provided for upkeep or improvements to the system. In recent years, ridership had dropped rapidly, especially once new air-conditioned long distance busses started running on rural routes. The train is infamous for delays or breakdowns.
As of January 2017, the Central Station was undergoing massive rebuilding. I was not able to find out how this is being funded - by the Cuban government, the UN, or a grant from the Chinese government? Regardless, it was a closed construction site and I was disappointed to not see the interior.
The platforms are in the back (the west side of the building) and are still in use.
I tried to enter and take pictures, but a lady security guard tossed me out. But once I was outside the fence, she did not seem to care, or didn't pay any more attention (she was doing something with her phone).
The houses across the Avenida Bélgica face the station - it must have been a noisy spot.
We saw some rail infrastructure in rural area of Cuba. These tracks were in the village of Guasimal. The tops were not completely rusted, suggesting occasional use.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

From the Archives: Sugar Land, Texas in 1984 with Technical Pan film

Sugar Land is a city southwest of Houston. Although Houston was inexorably sprawling in that direction in the 1980s, you still had a sense of countryside in Sugar Land. The town was surrounded by farmland and was known for the giant Imperial Sugar factory that occupied a multi-story complex of buildings and railroad tracks.
The mission-style depot was built in 1927 by Southern Pacific railroad. It looked unused in 1984. I am glad to report that the depot was moved to 445 Commerce Green Blvd. and now houses the Chamber of Commerce. Good for them to reuse a historic building.
Commemorative medal from the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation
This is a postcard of the Sugar Land sugar mill and nearby railroad lines, 1909. The depot was built to the left of where the men are standing on a locomotive. (From: (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1717/m1/1/: accessed March 2, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Fort Bend Museum).
I liked the old-fashioned farmhouses. Back then I did not take careful notes, so the exact location is unknown.
This old farm had asphalt shingle sheets for siding ("tar-paper shack").
More tracks and warehouses. I tried to identify the trailer company in the warehouse, but it may no longer exist.

I took these photographs in 1984 with a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera with 55mm f/1.8 Super-Takumar and 28mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lenses. The film was the ultra-fine-grained Kodak Technical Pan film, which I exposed at ISO 25. This was an emulsion developed for the military or for microfilming purposes. It was very contrasty unless you used the special Kodak Technidol developer, and even then was hard to use. I only experimented with Technical Pan one more time, and that was in Greece (another set of negatives to scan one day...).

I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast software.

The Spotmatic is still in good condition, and I recently used it in Vicksburg with Tri-X film. As always, I am amazed at the superb quality of these mid-century optics.